Additional Errors About the Physical World
The Bible has verses mentioning dragons (Jeremiah 51:34), unicorns (Isaiah 34:7), and cockatrices (Isaiah 11:8). These passages led many naturalists in the Middle Ages to think such mythical creatures actually exist.
The Bible is also incorrect in saying the bat is a bird (Leviticus 11:13,19), the hare and rock badger chew the cud (Leviticus 11:5-6), and the mustard seed “is the smallest of all seeds” (Matthew 13:32).
Finally, it’s inconsistent with science – and ludicrous – to believe that God confounded the language of humans because he was afraid they would build a tower high enough to reach heaven (Genesis 11:1-9).
Overall Effect of Bible Science
White summarizes the historical results of relying on the Bible for answers about the physical world. It’s not a pretty sight: “[T]here were developed, in every field, theological views of science which have never led to a single truth – which, without exception, have forced mankind away from the truth, and have caused Christendom to stumble for centuries into abysses of error and sorrow.”
In view of the Bible’s numerous mistaken beliefs about the physical world, there’s no reason to think its writers were any more correct about unseen and abstract matters. Being so greatly in error regarding the tangible and observable universe, the Bible cannot be considered a reliable guide for spiritual and ethical issues.
Prophecies in the Bible further strengthen the Humanist view. Because many of the prophecies turned out to be false, they prove the Bible is not inerrant.
The Bible itself contains a test for determining whether a prophecy was inspired by God. Deuteronomy 18:22 explains: “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.”
Applying this test to the Bible leads to one conclusion: the book contains many statements that were not inspired by God.
Old Testament Prophecies
Genesis 2:17 says the Lord warned Adam and Eve about the fruit contained on the tree of knowledge. He stated: “[I]n the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” According to Genesis chapter 3, however, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and didn’t die on that day.
Genesis 35:10 claims that God told Jacob: “[T]hy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name. . . .” But 11 chapters later, the Lord’s own act proved his prediction to be wrong. Genesis 46:2 relates: “God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.”
At II Chronicles 1:12, God promised Solomon: “Wisdom and knowledge is granted unto thee; and I will give thee riches, and wealth, and honour, such as none of the kings have had that have been before thee, neither shall there any after thee have the like.”
As Robert Ingersoll pointed out in the nineteenth century, there were several kings in Solomon’s day who could have thrown away the value of Palestine without missing the amount. And the wealth of Solomon has been exceeded by many later kings and is small by today’s standards.
Isaiah 17:1-2 prophesies that Damascus would cease to be a city, become a heap of ruins, and remain forever desolate. Yet some 27 centuries after the prediction was made, Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world and is still going strong.
Jeremiah 25:11 predicts the Jews would be captives in Babylon for 70 years, and II Chronicles 36:20-21 views the prophecy as fulfilled. But the Jews were taken into captivity by the Chaldeans when Jerusalem fell in 586 B.C.E. And Cyrus of Persia issued an order in 538 B.C.E. allowing them to return from Babylon to Judah. Thus, the Babylonian captivity lasted about 48 years.
Examples of other unfulfilled Old Testament prophecies include the following: the Jews will occupy the land from the Nile to the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18); they shall never lose their land and shall be disturbed no more (II Samuel 7:10); King David’s throne and kingdom shall be established forever (II Samuel 7:16); no uncircumcised person will ever enter Jerusalem (Isaiah 52:1); and the waters of Egypt will dry up (Isaiah 19:5-7).
New Testament Prophecies
In applying the Bible’s test for identifying false prophets, the conclusion is inescapable that Jesus was one of them. For example, he was wrong in predicting the world would end within the lifetime of his followers.
At Matthew 16:28, Jesus tells his disciples: “There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.” The people who were standing there all died eventually, and they never saw Jesus return to establish a kingdom.
Similarly, Jesus is depicted at Mark 13:24-30 as listing signs that shall accompany the end of the world. These include the sun becoming darkened, the moon not giving any light, the stars of heaven falling, the son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory, and angels gathering the elect. Then Jesus announces: “Verily I say unto you, that this generation shall not pass, till all these things be done.” His generation passed away long ago without the predicted events occurring.
Jesus also erred in predicting the amount of time he would be in the tomb. At Matthew 12:40 he teaches: “For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Mark 15:42-45 shows that Jesus died on a Friday afternoon. But Mark 16:9 and Matthew 28:1 tell us he left the tomb sometime on Saturday night or Sunday morning. Either way, the amount of time was less than three nights.
Another significant false prophecy is at John 14:13-14. Jesus promises: “Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye ask any thing in my name, I will do it.” Everyone knows there have been millions of instances where Jesus failed to respond to Christians who asked for things in his name. And the graveyards are full of people who prayed to him for health.
As is the case with other incorrect statements in the Bible, false prophecies cast doubt on all biblical claims. If one verse in the Bible is wrong, it’s possible for many verses to be wrong.
Inaccurate Statements About History
The Bible’s false statements about history also bolster the Humanist position. Historians and other scholars have exposed many of the Bible’s claims as historically inaccurate.
History and the Old Testament
Historians have long known that the biblical story of a worldwide flood is a myth. For instance, Andrew White says nineteenth-century Egyptologists found that Egypt had a flourishing civilization long before Noah, and no flood had ever interrupted it.
The book of Exodus claims to contain a historical record of the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. But historians and archaeologists have been unable to verify any of the events described in the book. No known Egyptian records refer to the biblical Moses, the devastating plagues God supposedly inflicted on the country, the escape of the Hebrew slaves, or the drowning of the Egyptian army. Further, White tells us the records contained on Egyptian monuments show that the pharaoh ruling at the time of the alleged escape of the Jews was certainly not overwhelmed in the Red Sea.
The book of Esther purports to describe how a young Jewish girl named Esther was chosen by the Persian king Xerxes I to be queen after he had divorced Vashti. Although historians know a great deal about Xerxes I, there is no record that he had a Jewish queen named Esther or was married to Vashti.
Additionally, the book of Esther describes the Persian empire as having 127 provinces, but historians maintain there was no such division of the empire. Also contrary to the book of Esther, historians assure us Xerxes did not order Jews in his territories to attack his Persian subjects.
The book of Daniel describes events that supposedly happened during the Babylonian captivity of the Jews. The fifth chapter states that Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, was succeeded on the throne by his son Belshazzar. But historians tell us Belshazzar was not the son of Nebuchadnezzar and was never king.
The book of Daniel also says one “Darius the Mede” captured Babylon in the sixth century B.C.E. In contrast, historians know that Cyrus of Persia took Babylon.
History and the New Testament
In the New Testament, the second chapter of Luke asserts that shortly before the birth of Jesus, the emperor Augustus ordered a census throughout the Roman world. Luke claims that every person had to travel to the town of his ancestors for the census to be taken. He identifies the census as the reason for Joseph and Mary traveling from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus is said to have been born.
In his book Gospel Fictions, Randall Helms says this type of census was never taken in the history of the Roman Empire. He points out it’s ridiculous to think the practical Romans would require millions of people to travel enormous distances – to towns of long-deceased ancestors – merely to sign a tax form. Likewise, in Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, Isaac Asimov affirms that the Romans would certainly arrange no such census.
The third chapter of Luke contains a genealogy tracing Christ’s ancestry back only 76 generations to Adam. According to Genesis chapter 1, Adam was created along with the rest of the universe during the course of one week.
The Bible thus views the human race and the universe as having existed for a relatively short period, probably no more than several thousand years. In fact, for many centuries the orthodox Christian position – to doubt which was to risk damnation – was that the creation took place sometime between four and six thousand years before Christ’s birth.
Historians and scientists give a much longer historical record. They say the universe is between 10 and 20 billion years old, the earth’s age is approximately 4.6 billion years, and humans evolved from ape-like ancestors during the last few million years.
Matthew chapter 2 avers that shortly after the birth of Jesus, King Herod ordered the massacre of all male children two years of age or under in Bethlehem and its vicinity. In the book of Luke, which contains the only other New Testament story of Jesus’ birth, there is no mention of this horribly cruel order. It’s also not recorded in any secular histories from the time – not even by writers who carefully described many far less wicked deeds of Herod. The lack of corroboration means Matthew’s account was fabricated.
Matthew 27:45 alleges that while Jesus was on the cross, there fell over the whole land a darkness lasting from midday until three in the afternoon. Andrew White explains that although Romans such as Seneca and Pliny carefully described much less striking occurrences of the same sort in more remote regions, they failed to note any such darkness occurring even in Judea.
Robert Ingersoll wondered why the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, “the best historian the Hebrews produced, said nothing about the life or death of Christ; nothing about the massacre of the infants by Herod; not one word about the wonderful star that visited the sky at the birth of Christ; nothing about the darkness that fell upon the world for several hours in the midst of day; and failed entirely to mention that hundreds of graves were opened, and that multitudes of Jews rose from the dead, and visited the Holy City?” Ingersoll also asked, “Is it not wonderful that no historian ever mentioned any of these prodigies?”
Ingersoll’s questions are even more forceful when one considers that there still exist at least some of the works of more than 60 historians or chroniclers who lived in the period from 10 C.E. to 100 C.E. Those writers were contemporaries of Jesus, if in fact he ever lived.
Finally, the previously discussed contradictions can be cited as examples of historical inaccuracies. In each instance where the Bible contains a contradiction about an alleged historical event, at least one of the accounts is wrong.
The Bible writers were poor historians, let alone conveyers of messages from an infallible God.
Other Problems with the Bible
There are other reasons why the Bible should not be considered the word of God. They include, but are not limited to: the fact that we don’t know who wrote most of it; the fact that much of it was written many years – and in some cases many centuries – after the events it purports to describe; its obscene passages; and its promises of eternal rewards for the ignorant and credulous and everlasting punishment for skeptics and investigators.
Finally, the harm that the Bible causes in people’s personal lives should be mentioned as a reason for rejecting the book. It’s not uncommon to see media reports about Bible believers committing bizarre, injurious, and sometimes deadly acts.
Some people use Bible verses to justify beating children, withholding medical treatment, handling snakes, drinking poison, chopping off body parts, plucking out eyes, driving out demons, withdrawing from the affairs of this world, renouncing the pleasures of life, and expecting the world to end.
If the Bible were not viewed as God’s word, these acts would occur much less often.
Many compelling and morally sound reasons support the Humanist position that the Bible is not divinely inspired. Instead of being inerrant, the Bible has far more errors and immoral teachings than most other books.
By treating this mistake-ridden book as the word of God, humanity has been led down many paths of error and misery throughout history. In too many ways, the Bible continues to produce such results.
But in some cases, the errors caused by the Bible have been corrected and the harms have been stopped. This happened when a scientific approach was applied to problems. Science involves relying on reason, observation, experience, and compassion – rather than blindly accepting religious or secular dogma.
We should reject the views of those who say the Bible has infallible answers to today’s problems. As Humanists know, science has proved to be a much better source for answers.
1 Ostling, Richard N., “Jerry Falwell’s Crusade,” Time (September 2, 1985), p. 50. Similarly, Jerry Falwell has said: “The Bible is the inerrant word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc.” McWilliams, Peter, Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society (Los Angeles: Prelude Press, 1993), p. 322.
2 “Interrogatories Served in Gaylor vs. Reagan,” Freethought Today (September 1983), p. 1.
3 George Gallop Jr. and Jim Castelli, The People’s Religion: American Faith in the 90’s(New York: MacMillan, 1989), pp. 60, 61.
4 Gallup and Castelli, p. 61.
5 Gallup and Castelli, p. 60.
6 Gallup and Castelli, p. 16.
7 Matthew 28:1; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; and John 20:1
8 Matthew 28:2 (outside) vs. Mark 16:5; Luke 24:3-4; and John 20:11-12 (inside)
9 Luke 24:4 (standing) vs. Matthew 28:2; Mark 16:5; and John 20:12 (sitting)
10 Matthew 28:9 and John 20:14
11 Ingersoll, Robert G., “Vindication of Thomas Paine,” The Works of Ingersoll, Vol. V (New York: Dresden, 1901), p. 483.
12 McCabe, Joseph, The History of Torture (Austin: American Atheist Press, Reprinted 1982), pp. 12, 23.
13 McCabe, pp. 20, 21.
14 Paine, Thomas, The Age of Reason (New Jersey: Citadel Press, 1974), p. 60.
15 Berggen, W.A., and Van Couvering, John A., Catastrophes and Earth History: The New Uniformitarianism (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984), p. 11.
16 White, Andrew D., A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, Vol. II (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1910), pp. 67, 68.
17 White, Vol. II, p. 70.
18 White, Vol. II, p. 27.
19 White, Vol. II, p. 45.
20 White, Vol. II, p. 68.
21 White, Vol. II, p. 71.
22 White, Vol., II, p. 71.
23 White, Vol. II, pp. 86-88.
24 White, Vol. II, pp. 72-75.
25 White, Vol. II, p. 70.
26 White, Vol. II, p. 92.
27 White, Vol. I, p. 132.
28 White, Vol. I, p. 142.
29 White, Vol. I, p. 160.
30 White, Vol. I, p. 126.
31 White, Vol. I, p. 93.
32 “The Ghosts,” Ingersoll, Vol. I, pp. 301, 302
33 White, Vol. I, p. 91. See also Draper, John W., History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, 1919), pp. 62, 63, 161.
34 White Vol. I, pp. 325, 326. See also Draper, pp. 163, 294.
35 Draper, pp. 163, 164.
36 The New English Bible with the Apocrypha, Oxford Study Edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 1002.
37 Ecker, Ronald L., Dictionary of Science and Creationism (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1990), p. 56.
38 Ecker, pp. 69, 70.
39 White, Vol. I, pp. 114-115. See also Draper, pp. 62, 63.
40 White, Vol. I, pp. 325, 326. See also Draper, p. 294.
41 White, Vol. I, p. 325.
42 White, Vol. I, p. 174, 175.
43 White, Vol. I, pp. 171-173, 176.
44 White, Vol. I, pp. 172, 173.
45 White, Vol. I, pp. 331, 337.
46 White, Vol. I, pp. 33-35.
47 White, Vol. I, p. 325.
48 “Interviews,” Ingersoll, Vol. V, p. 261.
49 McKinsey, C. Dennis, The Encyclopedia of Biblical Errancy (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), p. 295.
50 Callahan, Tim, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? (Altadena, California: Millennium Press, 1997), pp. 84-85.
51 White, Vol. I, p. 257.
52 Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible, 2d ed. (Palo Alto and London: Mayfield Publishing, 1985), p. 61.
53 White, Vol. II, p. 375.
54 Harris, p. 178.
55 Harris, p. 178.
56 Harris, p. 178.
57 Harris, p. 184.
58 McKay, John; Hill, Bennett; and Buckler, John; A History of Western Society, Vol. I (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983), p. 61.
59 Helms, Randal, Gospel Fictions (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1989), pp. 59, 60.
60 Asimov, Isaac, Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (New York: Avenel Books, 1981), p. 929.
61 White, Vol. I, p. 249-256.
62 Ecker, pp. 31, 199.
63 Ecker, p. 106.
64 Ecker, pp. 122, 129-131.
65 Asimov, p. 796, and Harris, p. 275.
66 White, Vol. I, p. 173.
67 “The Christian Religion,” Ingersoll, Vol. VI, p. 84.
68 Stein, Gordon, An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1980), p. 178.
69 Harris, p. 2.
70 Harris, p. 2.